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Do Retailers Dishonor Memorial Day?

On this year’s Memorial Day let’s hope that most Americans take some time to pause, ponder and pay tribute to the heroic soldiers who died in battle serving America throughout our history.

More than one million American men and women have died in military service since the Civil War, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (infographic). Therefore, it’s incumbent upon citizens to remember the historic significance of this revered national holiday, rather than simply focusing on trips, beaches, barbecues and — least importantly — superficial retail sales.

Vacuous Values

It’s unfortunate that commercialism appears to be on equal par with so many U.S. national holidays.Yet when it comes to honoring our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, it’s distasteful to prostitute America’s love affair with money and shopping at the expense of loved ones lost.

In short, it’s disgraceful that such vacuous values have become more important to some people than the actual meaning of sacred national holidays honoring our military men and women.

This sets an especially bad example for our nation’s youth, particularly Generation Y (millennials). Many young people are already infatuated with the latest high-tech gadgets and materialism, arguably to the detriment of America’s fundamental core values.

Retailers Should Self-Regulate

Would it really be so terrible for retailers to self-regulate by ignoring the profit motive on Memorial Day? The federal government closes. State and local governments close. The U.S. stock exchange and Wall Street close.

  • Why can’t the retail industry send an important message of patriotism by closing on Memorial Day?

It should be enough that many retailers begin their Memorial Day advertising and sales about a week in advance for shoppers. Thus how about closing shop and providing employees the day off to honor America’s fallen heroes?

This would allow more Americans to participate in Memorial Day parades and other holiday observances. Moreover, this would allow more Americans to remember all the brave members of the military lost in battle. Their valor, love of country and selfless service stand as timeless lessons for every generation.

Debt of Gratitude

We should never forget that all Americans owe a huge debt of gratitude to the U.S. Armed Forces on Memorial Day and every day. This is particularly true of all the war heroes who fought and died for America and the democratic ideals which we cherish.

As President Obama pointed out in his weekly address and via a Presidential Proclamation:

  • To those we lost, we owe a profound debt that can never be fully repaid. But we can honor the fallen by caring for their loved ones and keeping faith with our veterans and their fellow brothers and sisters in arms.”

Memorial Day is a time to remember and commemorate the tireless patriotism of service members who have perished on the field of battle. Memorial Day is a time to pay tribute to America’s fallen heroes for protecting and defending America’s democratic way of life.

But focusing too much time on spending sprees — and not enough time on solemn observance — only shows that some citizens take for granted the fundamental freedoms with which we are blessed as Americans.

Our soldiers did not pay the ultimate price on the battlefield so that Americans could pay less at shopping malls and car dealerships. That’s why private sector retailers should not put a premium on making money over the morals, values and principles we hold dear as a nation.

This is the very least the retail industry can do to honor all of the American warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of history.


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*** Note: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

Public servants on this side of the border get November 11th – what we call Remembrance Day – as paid leave. Some use that day to attend their local memorial ceremonies, but most won’t. If it happens to fall on a Friday or Monday, many will work it into a weekend getaway plan, and maybe take a personal day on top to squeeze a 4-day mini-vacation out of a single day of vacation time claimed.

I always have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the idea that one simply carries on as if nothing happened – going to work, going shopping, etc. – feels wrong. On the other hand, I remember how riveting it was, as an undergrad, to be in the student lounge between classes, and at 11AM on Nov.11 (11th hr, 11th day, 11th month – when WWI armistice was signed) everything in the middle of “normal life” came to a sudden silent still halt. Somehow the interruption of normal life can be more jarring, and have more impact, than the sidestepping of normal life.

So, while I’m with you in that transforming a day of remembrance into a commercial opportunity seems rather tasteless and unfitting, keeping everything closed seems to forfeit an opportunity for a coordinated interruption of everyday life (which is, of course, how those “back home” always learn of the end of a war), that can be meaningful.

The fence I’m sitting on is hurting my backside.

Ramona Winkelbauer

Some retailers honor their values (e.g., Hobby Lobby, Chick-Fil-A) by *regularly* closing on Sundays; 52 days days of “loss” not just one day/year for Decoration Day (the previous term). MH: The US Government also celebrates November 11 as Veterans Day, but, as in DBG’s article, this becomes another “retail holiday” not really a celebration of service and sacrifice.

Julie Chase

Christmas is the same way as is Easter (which feds don’t get a Holiday for)…same reason ultimate sacrifice. Commercialism and the all mighty dollar. I will say in military friendly state retailers and restaurants give active duty and retirees (only) 10% or more discounts on everything from cars to meals at a restaurant. Lowe’s and Home Depot also do this on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. You have show ID. Hotels and car rentals are also discounted for active duty and retirees who want to take a Memorial Day weekend get a way. Yep….the fence is pretty uncomfortable as well where I sit. My husband is a vet but he didn’t go all the way 20 yrs….. so no discount for him.

Erica Bakota

While I agree that the over-the-top retail hype regarding Memorial Day is tasteless, I also have to point out that this is not unique to Memorial Day (or Veteran’s Day, or any other day of remembrance). I think this is simply a symptom of a much larger phenomenon: the commercialization of everything. In my opinion, the retail industry never ceases in their search for occasions on which to base a promotion or sale, and it’s gotten worse in recent years. These days, some stores don’t even wait until Halloween is over before breaking out the Christmas items, and at the risk of sounding grumpy, this practice bothers me. I mean, geez, at least let me celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving before I enter the crazy Christmas hype! I think that the continuous retail hype of the next holiday can get in the way of us appreciating the days in between, as well as obstructing the true purpose of those holidays in the first place (like honoring our fallen soldiers). However, that said, I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that businesses close- keep your doors open, but keep it in good taste.

David B. Grinberg

Thanks for sharing your important insights Mark, Ramona, Julie & Erica:

ERICA: I concur with your assessment about “the commercialization of everything”. Moreover, I agree that retailers should give consumers a breather on advetising and sales between holidays — enough is enough!

JULIE: Yes, “commercialism and the almighty dollar” appear to be popular themes. But you make a great point that retailers should at least provide extra discounts to veterans on relevant national holidays. That’s seems to be the very least they can do to show some patriotism to counter balance all the conspicuous commercialism run amok.

RAMONA: Good point about retailers who close on Sundays. I assume you are implying they do so because of sincerely held religious beliefs?

MARK: Saving the best for last, can you expand on your important insights about how “a coordinated interruption of everyday life” can be more meaningful than other options for observance? I know you can easily hop off that fence! Thanks.


I wish we would get back to the meaning of Memorial Day…..There is way to much spending for spending sake going on. Really, do we need to shop every day of the year? I was very disappointed at the poor turnout for the dedication of flags in our town.